Substance outshines style at Santa Barbara County's low-key Lompoc Wine Ghetto. A semi-industrial office park that's in the heart of land-that-time-forgot Lompoc, California, Lompoc Wine Ghetto has great wines and value make up what the setting lacks in amenities. An off-the-beaten path alternative for wine tasting, there's a good chance you'll meet a winemaker (or two) when visiting this incongruous mix of businesses, which includes a not very friendly gun shop.
Although a winemaking facility for more than 10 years and the western gateway to the Santa Rita Hills AVA, the last two years has seen a proliferation of tasting rooms opening at the resident wineries -- with a 14th to open by end of summer.
Once you reach the western end of highway 246 in northern Santa Barbara County, directions to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto are not really very wine country romantic. "Take a right at the Home Depot and then a left," says Peter Stolpman, director of operations at Stolpman Winery & Vineyards. "The irony of the ghetto is that everyone here wears lots of hats," says Stolpman noting that most facilities here are quite lean. What visitors get is a firsthand look at winemaking; merchandising and kitsch are at a minimum and visitors really "hear the story," of the wines presented says Stolpman.
Several up-and-coming wineries (notably Zotovich Cellars, Samsara and Piedrasassi New Vineland) have joined established ones like Stolpman, Longoria (established 1982), Fiddlehead Cellars and Flying Goat Cellars at the nondescript facility. There may not be a scenic picnic area or vineyards as background but the minimalist presentation directs attention to the wines. "While the outside is not that special, really what's inside is memorable," says Fiddlehead Cellars' winemaker/owner Kathy Joseph.
At Piedrasassi/New Vineland's storefront tasting room, décor feels very Zen: a Japanese mask, a bookshelf, potted herbs and a massive glass decanter of corks from the Piedrasassi/New Vineland wines poured here. A project of Melissa Sorongon and her husband, winemaker Sashi Moorman, there's a pleasant DIY feel to whitewashed room; peek in the back to see the winery's storage room and perhaps even Moorman at work.
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Production of their 2008 New Vineland Viognier was purposefully limited to just two barrels. Luxurious and tropical, it's one of many low production wines that are available to taste and buy at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Nearby at Fiddlehead, a library wine is featured each month at the tasting room. July's special pour: the 2004 Hunnysuckle Sauvignon Blanc.
"We're really not trying to show off," says Fiddlehead's Joseph. She asserts the Wine Ghetto is proof that "you don't need a fancy place to make extraordinary wines." Fun and funky are how she describes the one-stop shop for independently made Central Coast wines. "It's a wonderful collection of passionate winemakers that make their environment inviting and full of personality," says Joseph.
Tasting room hours tend to be limited to 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday; other days and after hours by advance appointment. Once in the 'hood, you're not far from the original Hitching Post in Casmalia, not the "Sideways'" famed-one, but the authentic cowboy eatery, and wood-fired BBQ champ. Coming up the weekend of August 12-14th, the Ghetto will be a happening venue for the Santa Rita Hills Winegrower's Alliance Wine & Fire Event that promises a weekend of special tastings -- one at the historic La Purisma Mission -- and seminars.